Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Buddha's Hand or my Black Friday

This weekend I went with my grandma to The Fresh Market, a great little specialty food store that just opened up in Peoria.  It reminded me a bit of a cross between a Whole Foods and a Trader Joe's--with a great fresh fish and meat counter!

Instead of spending hours in line at the Mall or department stores on Black Friday, my grandma and I took a leisurely stroll through the new store admiring the wares.  It was so enjoyable, pushing our little cart, drooling over the pastries and fresh fish, and pointing items we would like to try.  We admired the columns of olive oils, each unique with its own shape and design, and picked out our favorites of the group, the ones we would like to try.  We loaded our baskets with fresh garland for our Christmas decorations, whole bean coffee for J, Advent calendars for my cousins, and fresh sushi for our appetizers that evening. As one of 17 grandchildren, I don't often get that one-on-one time.  I felt very blessed and thankful to be there at The Fresh Market with my grandma.

One of the unusual items we came across was a Buddha's Hand.  I only knew the name of this citrus because J and I watch Chopped on Food Network every week and it has appeared in one of the mystery baskets.  We admired it for a while and then put it back.

Now I am wishing I had purchased it anyway.  I am heading back to Peoria for my birthday in a few weeks and I might just have to pick one up!

Has anyone heard of a Buddha's Hand? What about a recipe that call for this ingredient, should I purchase a Buddha's Hand in the next few weeks?  Come across an unusual ingredient yourself lately?  Let's talk...

Monday, November 29, 2010

Long Weekend in Review and To-Do List

Happy Monday everyone!  I hope all those in the States had a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend--J and I certainly did!

As I alluded to in this post, we spent the weekend with my grandparents in Peoria, IL.  Because I like lists, I am going to recap our stay in bullet point format.

  • Ate lots of turkey and fixings.  For a recap on our menu, click here.
  • Watched lots of football.  Nebraska and more importantly, Notre Dame, won their games this weekend!
  • Cooked and baked a lot, including hot breakfasts (eggs, waffles, and omelets) every morning
  • Read and finished two books (okay that was just me!)
  • Ate Agatucci's, the best pizza in Peoria
  • Visited with my aunt, uncle and cousins
  • Put up Christmas decorations with my grandparents and trimmed their tree
  • Conducted research for a future blog post--that's all I can reveal for now!
  • Took several naps (again that was just me!)
And to continue the bullet point theme, here is my to do list this week.  I hope I can get it all done!

This week I will:
  • Make turkey soup with the bones from our Thanksgiving turkey
  • Unpack
  • Clean house--including floors and baseboards!
  • Decorate for Christmas
  • Buy/Make Christmas gifts for family and friends
  • Wrap said gifts and put them under our tree
  • Clear off my desk
How was your weekend friends?  Any exciting To Do's on your horizon?  Let's hear it!

    Friday, November 26, 2010

    A Day in the Life of Woods

    Hello!  Woods here.  I have taken over my mom's blog for a while to share a day in my life told from my perspective.  If you asked my mom what I did all day she would say eat and sleep.  The truth is I do way more than that!

    4:30 am: Get woken up for the fifth time by my parents while sleeping on their bed.  Get tired of being moved around when they adjust the covers.  Get up and eat some breakfast.

    5:00 am: Find a warm spot on the couch in the living room.  This perch allows me to survey the entire apartment while still staying warm and comfortable.
    5:15 am: Fall back asleep
    6:30 am:  Wake up to my parents' alarm.  Get down from couch and come visit them before they get up for the day.
    6:45 am: Watch a little TV from their bed, usually Morning Joe or Sports Center depending on the day and what Mom and Dad have on.
    7:00 am:  Get a drink of water then wait patiently in the bathroom while Mom or Dad take a shower
    7:15 am: Lick the drain in the shower.  Lay down on the cool bathtub surface and relax for a few minutes.
    7:20 am: Run around the apartment, jumping up in windows to watch my squirrel, bunny rabbit and bird friends start their days.
    7:45 am: Say goodbye to my parents as they head to wherever it is they go all day.
    8:00 am:  Eat a little more breakfast.
    8:30 am: Take a nap in my red "bone" bed.
    9:00 am:  Get woken up by noises outside.  Jump into window sill to see what is going on.
    9:30 am: Watch leaves fall outside and dogs walk by.  Fall asleep in the sun.

    10:00 am:  Wake up and use the facilities.  When I return, take another nap on the chairs in the living room.
    11:00 am: Investigate all windows and explore kitchen counters for scraps.  Mom will be home soon for lunch and I don't want to get caught on the counters!
    12:00 pm: Hear garage door open.  Wait by the door for Mom to come in.
    12:30 pm: Follow Mom around the house, and if I haven't been held long enough, meow until she picks me up again.
    12:35 pm: Try to eat some of Mom's food.  When this fails, curl up something soft and comfortable near her (carpet if she's in the living room, dining room chair if she's in the dining room)

    12:45 pm: Get brushed or play with my Mom and one of my favorite toys
    1:00 pm: Mom leaves again for a few hours.
    1:05 pm:  Take another nap, this one in the sun.
    2:00 pm:  Wake up, play with some of my toys.
    2:30 pm: Grab a bite to eat.
    3:00 pm: Sleep.
    4:30 pm: Wake up to the garage door opening.  Greet Mom by the door.
    4:45 pm: Follow Mom around while she reads, types on her computer or cooks.
    5:30 pm: Hear garage door opening for third time today.  Greet Dad by the door when he comes in with his backpack.
    6:00 pm: Take my seat at the table because dinner is ready.
    6:02 pm: Get down off the table after being scolded for the millionth time.
    6:30 pm: Grab some chow while my parents clean the kitchen.
    7:00 pm: Take a nap on the couch.
    8:30 pm: Join my parents in bed as they watch a TV show, work on their computers or read a book.
    9:00 pm: Settle in on my soft blanket until tomorrow!


    Click here for more of my cameos on this blog.  My mom's coming.  Better get off the computer!

    Thursday, November 25, 2010

    Book Review: I See You Everywhere

    As I alluded to in my reading list post where I introduced this book, and as you could see from this post, I have one sister and two brothers.  Okay, so maybe it's hard to tell in the picture with his head turned away that the baby is a boy, but that is my youngest brother Alec!

    I have found I enjoy reading books about sisters (or friends who are like sisters) and the sometimes complex relationship that exists between them.  Some of my favorites include The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, The Girls and In Her Shoes.

    As an aside, my sister even read the e.e. cumings poem I Carry Your Heart at our rehearsal dinner.  This poem has special significance for us.  In fact, her Christmas gift last year was a charm necklace that I had engraved with "I carry your heart" on the back of it.

    My sister was my maid of honor at our wedding and I consider us to be very close both as sisters and as friends.  Maybe this is why I struggled with I See You Everywhere at the beginning, because I had a hard time relating to sisters who did not treat each other very well and seemed to have a fairly negative albeit real relationship.

    I am probably getting a bit ahead of myself here.  The novel is about two sisters, Clem (short for Clement) and Louisa, and it follows their life over a roughly twenty year period.  In the beginning, in each of the chapters, the narrator bounced back and forth between the two sisters.  As the novel went on, some of the chapters were told solely from the prospective of one of the sisters.  Louisa is a potter and sculptor but while she is the more artistic of the two, she is also more grounded.  Clem is a free spirit biologist whose wanderlust takes her around the world.

    Each chapter jumped ahead in time, sometimes a year, sometimes more, but this was never consistent.  It always took a few minutes of reading to figure out how much time had passed and what had happened to the characters since that time.  I actually liked this approach and it made for a very interesting read as it kept me on my toes!

    Spoiler ahead.  Do not highlight the text below if you have not read the book or wish the story to be spoiled!

    I have to admit I was shocked when Clem died.  I thought for sure with Louisa's cancer that she would be the one to go but maybe that was the point.  The chapters after Clem commits suicide were touching, real and very raw.  I was a bit disheartened that Clem and Louisa came to a greater understanding and acceptance of each other for such a short time before Clem's death.  It seemed so tragic and such a waste. I was happy that Louisa got what she needed at the end of the novel: comfort, healing and understanding with another suicide survivor, her husband.

    Before reading this novel, I never understood how two sisters like Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine could go years (since 1975 to be exact) without speaking.  I See You Everywhere helped me understand how lucky I am to I have such a good relationship with my sister and how years of misunderstandings and grudges can poison a relationship, even among sisters.

    Add my relationship with my sister to the list of things I am grateful this Thanksgiving!

    I definitely recommend this book and will be adding other books the author, Julia Glass, has written to my reading list!

    Thanksgiving Dinner Line-up

    Each family celebrates Thanksgiving slightly differently, so I thought I would share what will be on our menu later today! 
    Image from weheartit and here originally
    Turkey, of course!  We usually brine it and then stuff it with stuffing, but have tried various methods over the years.  I want to deep fry a turkey one of these years!

    Stuffing.  My dad's family makes theirs with sausage, but as we are celebrating Turkey Day with my mom's parents, ours will be sans sausage.

    Mashed Potatoes with Gravy

    Green Bean Casserole

    Sweet Potato Casserole.  This is my favorite part of Thanksgiving, besides the turkey.  Baked in the oven with a streusel of brown sugar and pecans on top, I could eat bowls and bowls of it.  My family likes this dish so much we make it for Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter!

    Rolls.  Got to have warm rolls and butter!

    Relish tray.  Delicious tray filled with olives, carrots, celery, pickles and raw green onions.  Nothing says holidays like a relish tray!

    Pumpkin Pie.  Perfect end to a perfect meal!

    Football and nap.  So it's not a food group, but it is what we usually do after we eat!

    Just writing this post is making me hungry.  Pardon me while I wipe the drool off of my key board.

    Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

    Wednesday, November 24, 2010

    Remember When Wednesdays

    Welcome to a new feature here at KT's Refinishing School called Remember When Wednesdays!  What is Remember When Wednesdays you ask?

    Well, it is where I will share a vintage photo of either myself, J or members of our family as well as a little story or memory behind the photo.  With Thanksgiving tomorrow, I thought it would be the perfect time to introduce this feature and take a trip down memory lane.  Now, without further ado...

    While this isn't exactly a Thanksgiving picture, it is at the very least a fall picture, as indicated by the color of the tree and the abundance of jackets, mittens and scarves.  I am in the light blue jacket and that's my Grandma and Papa behind me, who we will be spending Thanksgiving with this year!  My mom is holding my youngest brother Alec and I am standing next to my brother Dan and sister Madi.  My dad was there too, probably taking the picture for us.

    This was one of the many Notre Dame games I attended as a child.  My grandpa went there for his bachelor's as well as his law degree.  My great-uncles and their father, my great-grandfather also attended Notre Dame.  My sister (in red, waving at the camera) now carries on the tradition as a sophomore at Notre Dame.

    I don't know who we were playing that day or if we won this game or not, but I do know that this is one of many pictures we have in front of Touchdown Jesus.

    Can we talk about my powder blue coat and white jeans?  What was I thinking?  It was certainly after Labor Day! Ah, childhood.

    So, what do you think of the new feature?  Do you have any vintage photographs to share? 

    Split Pea Soup

    Anne and I in high school with my horse Pal :)
    J and I decided to make a soup on Sunday evening.  We like to do that, because the leftovers make for great lunches over the next several days.  Plus we usually have a bit more time to spend in the kitchen on Sundays as opposed to week day evenings.

    This week I decided to make split pea soup.  In high school, my best friend Anne and I would travel up north every year to San Luis Obispo for the Cal Poly Royal, a several day demonstration by their agriculture and animal science majors.  Every year, without fail, we would visit Anderson's for their split pea soup, sometimes a few times each trip.  One year, we even stayed at the hotel which meant we ate even more soup!

    Their soup was served with pumpernickel bread and butter--if it's a good split pea soup you don't need anything else!

    Split Pea Soup, modified from Cooking Light

    3 slices of bacon--the bacon really adds a smoky flavor that can't be beat.  For vegetarians, I recommend using veggie bacon
    1 1/2 cups of chopped onion (about 1 large onion)
    5 cups of water--I added some chicken bouillon to this because I didn't believe just water, bacon, spices and split peas would be very flavorful.  You can of course use vegetable bouillon or stock
    1 1/2 cups of split peas
    1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
    1/4 teaspoon dried savory--I didn't have any on hand, so I used Herbes de Provence from Penzey's which contained savory and other yummy spices
    1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
    1 teaspoon salt

    Kitchen Supplies:
    Stock pot or dutch oven
    Measuring cup
    Potato masher or immersion blender

    Cook bacon over medium heat for five minutes.  Add onion to the pan and saute for another five minutes until onions have softened and are slightly brown.  Add five cups of water (or stock) to the pan and stir to loosen brown bits on the bottom of the pot.  If using bouillon, add cubes or powder at this time.  Add spices (except salt) and peas, bringing to a boil.  Once boiling, reduce to a simmer for 1 hour and 20 minutes or until peas are tender.  Remove from heat and add salt to taste.  Mash with potato masher to desired consistency or use immersion blender (it's on my wish list!) to blend.  Serve warm with bread.

    Calories: 189 calories
    Serving size: about 1/2 cup: Serves six adults as main course, eight as a first course


    Tuesday, November 23, 2010

    Pardon My Silence

    I spent most of the weekend and yesterday preparing to be a witness in J's final trial class.  I was an arson expert in a civil trial complete with a courtroom, judge and jury.  It was a little nervewracking for me to have to memorize an entire deposition, be prepared for direct and cross examination and so forth.  J did a great job preparing me, so it went smoother than I expected.  And the good news is we won!  The bad news is I didn't blog yesterday.

    No fear, I have a few goodies lined up for you on this Thanksgiving week, including:
    • New soup recipe, perfect for those cold winter nights which have come to our area in full force.
    • Book review of I See You Everywhere
    • A new weekly feature!
    • A day-in-the-life post, from Woods' perspective
    • Thanksgiving menu roundup
    So stay tuned!

    Friday, November 19, 2010

    A Rainbow in My Clouds

    Last night I was fortunate enough to see Maya Angelou speak at University of Missouri-St. Louis--thanks for the tickets Ashlee!  She was witty, funny, moving and above all inspirational.

    She started her lecture with a early 20th century spiritual song which retold the story of the Great Flood in the Judeo-Christian tradition in which rainbows were set in the clouds as a promise that the rains would stop and the sun would shine.  She then reflected on people and situations that have been rainbows in the clouds in her life.  The rainbows in her clouds.

    This concept, this rainbow in the clouds metaphor, struck me as a great way to express gratitude this Thanksgiving.  It is a thankfulness not only for the good things in our lives, but the bad things too, and a way at looking at them without regret, fear, pain or sorrow, but instead appreciation that without the rain, there can be no sunshine and more importantly, no rainbows.

    Here is a quote from a recent lecture Ms. Angelou gave on the same theme in Louisiana that helps explain this concept further: "God puts rainbows in the clouds so that each of us-in the dreariest and most dreaded moments-can see a possibility of hope." (Source)

    This got me thinking about some of the rainbows in my clouds, things that at the time were difficult and painful, but now I am glad to have experienced them.  In the spirit of thanksgiving and being grateful for what we have and what you have experienced, I thought I would share one of them with you here:

    When J and I spent the first four weeks of our marriage apart.  J had a job this past summer in Omaha and because our home and my job was here, we spent the last four weeks of our engagement and the first four weeks of our marriage in different states.  We saw each other on weekends whenever we could, but it was difficult to be separated from each other when our lives together were just starting.

    Looking back now, I can honestly say that I learned a lot about myself, about J and about our marriage in those eight weeks in a way that I would not have otherwise.  I learned to be patient, to communicate better, and achieved a sense of independence all while still being connected to J.  These are experiences I am thankful for, even though it meant being away from the one I love and starting out our marriage in an unconventional way.

    The challenge, for me at least, is to keep looking for those rainbows when the rain is pouring down.  It's easier to see, once the rain has gone away, where those rainbows have been hiding.  Something to remember next time I start to feel the storm clouds rolling in...

    What do you think?  Do Maya Angelou's words inspire you like they inspired me?  What is a rainbow in the clouds in your life?

    Thursday, November 18, 2010

    An End of Year Resolution

    It may be a strange time of year to be making resolutions, but I am going to make one. 

    After visiting the big cats on Sunday and hearing the games the caretakers play with the tigers and lioness, it got me thinking.  I don't play games with Woods very much.  I don't play with him much at all, which is sad, because

    a) he is an only cat, so one of his main sources of stimulation and play must come either from J or me
    b) he is an inside cat, see a)
    c) he is a young cat, so he still has lots of energy
    d) J and I are gone for large chunks of the day, see a)

    Therefore, I resolve to play with Woods at least fifteen minutes every day.  I also resolve to brush him every day to cut down on the fur around here and to make him more comfortable generally. 

    Because I don't like cat bites, I resolve never to do this two things back to back lest it cause confusion for Woods and he think it is perfectly acceptable to nibble on my arm.  Note: he doesn't do this when we play, but if he is all riled up, he just might start...

    So far, I have played with him for fifteen to twenty minutes every day this week.  It seems to be helping.  He actually has taken to following me around in the mornings while I get dressed, have breakfast and pack our lunches.  Once I've done all that, then we can play.

    Woods as a baby playing with his favorite Santa toy
     Have you made any end of year (or mid year for that matter) resolutions?  Got any kitty games or cat toy suggestions?  Let's hear 'em!

    Decorating for the Holidays

    After my wish list post last week, I went on a bit of a shopping spree (a cheap one, but a spree no less!) to decorate our dining room for Thanksgiving and later, Christmas.

    First, I picked up this solid white runner with white velvet trim at Target for 14.00 bucks.  I chose white over the silver or gold varieties because it is more versatile and is something I could use to dress up our table all year round.

    Next, I found some gold and silver metallic votives at Target for 99 cents each.  At that price, I grabbed four of them, two of each color. 

    I then went to World Market to see what treasures I could find there.  This is an easy task in my neck of the woods because Target, World Market and Bed, Bath and Beyond all share the same parking lot.  Hurray for visiting multiple stores without having to drive extra miles to get there!

    I knew I wanted chargers for the table setting.  My mom always puts out gold chargers for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years every year.  To me, they are an essential part of any holiday decor.

    I eyed these at Target, but ultimately decided against them because I really need two of them (our dining room table is small and any more than two would look very crowded) and they only came in packages of four.

    I'm glad I waited because I found these square beauties instead.  They are perfect because, as you can see from the photo, we have square plates.  The square chargers came in silver and gold, and after stacking square plates and the two chargers side by side in an aisle of World Market, I decided to go with the silver chargers.  For 2.99 each, I was sold!

    While searching the store for treasures, I found a bag of twenty lightly scented tea light candles for 3.99 a bag, which I placed immediately into my basket to go with my votives from Target.

    Next, I turned to cloth napkins.  After all, that was over half of my wish list post!  I found several at World Market that I liked, but ultimately settled on these lovelies (the napkins, not the napkin ring that is being sold in the link).  They have a bit of a brownish, gold color to the pattern and were 1.89 a piece after my World Market Explorers discount.  I bought four of them since they are subtle and neutral enough to work for any dinner party, not just the holidays.

    Later that night, I stopped by Crate and Barrel with a friend so she could pick up a wine aerator.  While we were there, I spied the perfect napkin rings for my table setting, complete with silver, gold and white accents!  For 4.50 a piece, they are something I will likely use year after year.

    When I got home, I could hardly wait to pull it all together.  When I laid down the runner (and folded and tucked part of it because of its length), Woods immediately jumped on the table to "help."  Once he discovered the runner was a soft material, he proceeded to make it his bed.  Woods is not allowed on our table at all, so this was a fun teaching moment with us, complete with squirt bottle (the only thing he responds to...most of the time).

    I placed two large candle sticks that we had received as an engagement gift in the center of the table and placed two small pillar candles I had already.  They are a bit used and burned down, and perhaps I will replace them soon with taller, unburned ones.  For now, they will do as they were free.

    My table was still missing a little something, preferably something gold to tie in that metallic color a bit more into the setting.  That's when I remembered my little pile of picture frames in my closet from a failed project involving spoon hooks last year.  They would look great on our table!

    I grabbed two of them and some scrap paper and got to work.  In a few more minutes, I had two frames to remind us to be grateful this season.  One says Give Thanks and the other is a list with some of the things we are thankful for this year.  There are a lot more, but that is all that would fit on the list :)

    Final total: under forty bucks.  Not bad considering I will use many of these items year after year, not just for the holidays, but any time I want to add a little something to our meal!

    So there you have it, our Thanksgiving table setting.  I have to admit, sometimes in the mornings I catch myself wandering into our dining room , flicking on the light and staring at the table.  The metallics and whites just make me so happy!

    What's your favorite part?  Have you decorated for the holidays yet?  Let's talk...

    Psst...I already have an idea for how to transform this setting into a Christmas setting without spending any additional money...stay tuned for details!

    Wednesday, November 17, 2010

    Pumpkin-Red Pepper Bisque

    As I alluded to in this post, I made Pumpkin-Red Pepper Bisque for J and I for lunch over the weekend.  It was one of several meals we had planned for last week and didn't end up cooking until the weekend.  It is another Flat Belly recipe, originally called Pumpkin Bisque.  However, the red pepper flavor is fairly strong in the soup and as such, deserves a mention in the name of the recipe!

    This recipe serves four easily and if served as a first course or alongside a salad or sandwich, could easily feed six.  As a bonus, it has almost half of the daily recommended amount of fiber in one serving!

    Forgive the shadow in the picture, we were watching an NFL game in the living room at the time!
    Pumpkin-Red Pepper Bisque, adapted from The Flat Belly Diet Cookbook

    2 teaspoons olive oil
    2 onions, chopped
    1 large red bell pepper, chopped
    1 potato, peeled and diced
    1 tablespoon minced garlic
    1 tablespoon oregano
    4 cups reduced sodium vegetable broth--as usual, I used chicken broth because it is what I had on hand
    1 can (15 ounces) canned pumpkin
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1/2 teaspoon black pepper
    1/2 cup chopped toasted pumpkin seeds--I used almond slivers because it was what I had in the pantry
    drizzle of balsamic vinegar, optional but recommended

    Kitchen Supplies:
    Food processor or blender
    Large stock pot
    Can opener

    Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat.  Add the onions, bell peppers, potato, garlic and oregano.  Stir occasionally for five minutes or until the onion is softened.  Add the broth, canned pumpkin, salt and pepper.  Reduce heat to simmer and cook for ten minutes or until potato is very tender.

    Transfer to a food processor or blender.  Note that if you use a small food processor or blender, you will need to do this next step in batches.  Process until smooth.  Return soup to the pot and reheat as necessary.  If you are able to blend the soup in one batch, it shouldn't take much to reheat it.

    Ladle into bowls and drizzle each bowl with balsamic vinegar.  Top each with two tablespoons of almonds or pumpkin seeds. 

    Calories: 210
    Serving size: 2 cups, plus 2 tablespoons of seeds


    Tuesday, November 16, 2010

    Ashlee's Bedroom Makeover

    My friend Ashlee, who recently shared a mini makeover of her living room, is back with a makeover of her bedroom.  She really needs to start her own blog, as I have told her many an occasion.  Until then, I am happy to share her finds with you all!

    This time, she found some great deals that you will have to see to believe.  Here is her letter:

    We needed a duvet cover to hide the fur (thanks Finley!) and thought a lighter color might do the trick. I feel like this is a running theme at our place...fur hiding. haha Anyway, we bought new bedding last year with wedding gift card money but dark brown was not good for white fur. Justin and I were originally going to give ourselves new bedding for our joint Christmas gift to each other and I found some on other sites that was close to $180 bucks for the duvet and the shams. 

    While grocery shopping at Target, we went along the side aisles and found this duvet and shams for $35.00 on CLEARANCE. I went online to Target.com and saw they still have this duvet and shams listed for $80.00. It said on the package it was an online order returned so someone's loss was our gain! 

    We bought some new fabric to reupholster our ottoman because Finley's claws scratched it all up and we also used it to reupholster our "headboard."

    Grand total for today? 50 bucks. We think it turned out pretty great! 

    The fabric for the ottoman and headboard actually came from a shower curtain from Target!  Isn't that awesome?  The headboard is made from a large canvas Ashlee bought a while back from a local art supply store.

    I love that Finley, the culprit behind the redesign, is posing in several of her pictures.   He even managed to look guilty and remorseful!

    My favorite feature of this room, other than the unbelievably cheap duvet of course, is the collection of picture frames above their bed.  When she sent me the pictures, I asked Ashlee to share some details with me about the frames (and the photos in them).  I think they are perfectly orderly without being matchy-matchy.  The three larger frames are photographs from their engagement, their monogram, and a photo taken on their honeymoon to Chicago last year.  The smaller frames have maps of their respective home towns in Nebraska, a map of their current city, St. Louis, and of course, a photo of Finley.

    Bedding Before....

    Bedding After



    Ottoman Before...

    Ottoman After


    Thanks so much to Ashlee for sharing her projects with me once again!  

    What's your favorite feature in the room?  Is it the plush ottoman? The bright and cheery duvet?  Furry puppy dog?  Let's talk...

    P.S. Have a  makeover, mini or otherwise, that you'd like to see here on the blog.  Email me at ktrefinishingschool[at]gmail[dot]com.  I'd love to hear from you!

    Lions, Tigers and...Groupon, oh my!

    We are big fans of Groupon.  Over the past year, we have used it to:
    • Get a nice hair cut and color (for me)
    • Eaten several times at this great restaurant
    • Seen a movie with 2 for 1 movie tickets
    • Eaten fresh Creole food here
    • Got an eyebrow wax and conditioning treatment for $13 (again for me)
    Yesterday we added one more to the list: Dinner, drinks and a tour at Tiger Ridge Restaurant and Crown Ridge Tiger Sanctuary!  Hence the tiger reference in my last post.  This was by far the best Groupon we have used so far and made for a wonderful date night!

    J has been busy with the end of the semester and finals quickly approaching.  It was great for us to be able to take the afternoon off and spend time together exploring a new place, learning new things and eating great food!

    Crown Ridge is located in Ste. Genevieve, which was approximately 1 hour and 20 minute drive for us.  Nestled in the heart of Crown Valley, an area rich with wine, produce and livestock including bison, Crown Ridge is a fifty-five acre facility that features a restaurant, Bed and Breakfast, and most importantly (at least to us) a tiger sanctuary, which is currently home to five tigers and one lioness.

    When we arrived at the grounds, we were welcomed by the hostess and ushered into a dark wood library and bar while we waited for our 4:30 tour.  J and I sampled the beer on tap: Crown Valley wheat beer, which was very refreshing.  Other Crown Valley varieties, including a root beer named after one of the tigers, Fizzy Izzy, were available in bottle form.  Wine from Crown Valley Winery was also available.

    Soon it was time for our tour, which was conducted by the sanctuary's intern.  She explained that Crown Ridge Tiger Sanctuary is an USDA approved big cat sanctuary whose funding comes from a 501(c)(3) foundation.  All of the cats in the sanctuary had been rescued and had come from bad situations.  Because they had all been bred by exotic animal traders and many are of mixed breed or inbred, zoos do not/are not able to take these cats when they are seized by animal control.  Crown Ridge is able to offer some of these cats, who would otherwise be euthanized, a home.

    The cat houses are double fenced with a sidewalk nearby, which allowed us to get very close to the cats but still maintain a safe distance.  Most of them were sleeping as it was early evening.  We learned that tigers can sleep anywhere between 18 to 20 hours a day, which I could verify anecdotally by how much our "tiger" Woods sleeps.  He's sleeping next to me as I write this actually.

    The lioness, Alexis, did come out and greet us, however. At one point she and the white tiger, Mohan, got into a shouting match.  The intern explained that Alexis always has to get in the last word with the other tigers, which she did while we were there! 

    Each tiger is housed in their own enclosure, since in the wild tigers are solitary animals.  The only exception to this are Thor and Gracie.  Gracie is 90 to 95 percent blind due to previous neglect.  Thor and Gracie lived together in their previous home.  When they were rescued, the caretakers noticed that Thor was giving Gracie some of her meager share of her food.  This behavior continued at the sanctuary for several months, until Thor learned that there was enough food to go around!  It was obvious from that moment that Thor cared deeply for Gracie, which is why they still live together today.

    J and I had a lot of fun learning about the tigers and laughed out loud several times when the big cats exhibited mannerisms we recognized in Woods.  From the way they lie down to the way they clean their paws, it was just like Woods, only they were 200 or so times his size!

    Yes, I have caught Woods sleeping like this.  This is their youngest cat, Izzy.

    After the tour, we were taken into the dining room, where we were greeted with fresh bread and herb butter.  At the restaurant, as many of the ingredients as possible are locally sourced.  I ordered a Bison Stroganoff and J ordered a roasted duck.  We split a wedge salad that had local blue cheese and pecans.  The food was delicious and filing--we didn't even have room for dessert, although if they are anything like the food we had there, it would have been delicious! Unfortunately, we didn't get any pictures of the dining room or our food before we gobbled it up!

    Overall, J and I had a wonderful time with those exotic and majestic creatures.  We hope to return soon, perhaps to spend the weekend exploring Ste. Genevieve and some of the local wineries while we are at it.  Sounds like a good Valentine's Day or anniversary trip to me!

    If anyone in the St. Louis area is looking for a little getaway, I definitely recommend Tiger Ridge!

    Monday, November 15, 2010

    Weekend in Review or Coming Attractions

    On Friday I shared some of my plans for the weekend.  I thought I would share with you how I did with those plans.
    • Laundry: I did 7 loads of laundry on Saturday morning.  Note to self: do not wait so long to do laundry next time!
    • Menu planning: postponed until midweek due to a number of meals I froze and did not make last week
    • Grocery shopping: see above
    • Read (and hopefully finish) one of my books: I finished I See You Everywhere.  Look for a book review post this week!
    • Go out to dinner with friends tonight after work: we went here and it was delicious!
    • Go to a concert tomorrow night with Ashlee: we saw Augustana and Sara Bareilles at UMSL.  Sara was sweet, funny and very entertaining!
    • Write my first letter to my pen pal: I wrote this while doing laundry.  It was a great way to pass the time!
    • Take a nap: accomplished Saturday afternoon while watching football with Woods
    • Watch some football: woke up, watched some football and to my surprise and delight, Notre Dame won!  

    I also did the following:
    • Drank tea
    • Discovered a new TV show: thanks to Ashlee and Justin, we watched 4 episodes from the first season on Friday night.  It is hilarious!
    • Took pictures of a Thanksgiving table setting that I started late last week: look for details and pictures later this week!
    • Went to church
    • Made a delicious pumpkin soup for lunch: recipe to follow this week
    • Had an amazing date night with J last night: details and photos also to follow. For now all I will say is that it involved TIGERS.  The real ones, not a mascot--sorry Mizzou!
    How was your weekend, friends?

    Friday, November 12, 2010

    Weekend's Here

    The weekend's finally here.  Adjusting to Daylight Savings Time seemed to take more out of me this year, so the weekend is much welcomed!

    I plan to do a few things this weekend:
    • Laundry (I never made it to the laundry mat on Monday)
    • Menu planning
    • Grocery shopping
    • Read (and hopefully finish) one of my books
    • Go out to dinner with friends tonight after work
    • Go to a concert tomorrow night with Ashlee
    • Write my first letter to my pen pal
    • Take a nap
    • Watch some football
    What's on your weekend to do list?  Happy weekend, everyone!

    Holiday Candle

    As I mentioned in the previous post, I am gearing up for the holidays!

    One way I've done this is by purchasing a candle whose scent reminds me of the season.  This year, that candle is Home Scents' Fireside by Target.  It smells a little bit like cinnamon and cookies baking, and also a bit smokey, like the wonderful smell of a wood burning fire.

    Growing up, we always had a fire in the fireplace on Thanksgiving and Christmas.  We often fought over who got to take a post-Thanksgiving nap in front of the fireplace--a better nap has never been had, I swear!  The Christmas fire was great for burning some of the wrapping paper left over from opening presents.  As I got older, I spent many a Christmas Day afternoon in front of the fire dozing and reading one of the books I had gotten that day---this candle is already bringing back memories from holidays gone by!

    Since the fireplace in our apartment is non-functioning, it is nice to have the smell of a wood burning fire when we cannot have the real thing!

    I stacked a few white bound books on the side table in our living room, exchanging them with the scarier, creepier black books left over from Halloween.  I then topped the crisp pages with the candle.  The white and silver covers echo a table setting I have planned for the dining room, so stay tuned...
    I think many winter nights will be spent with a cup of tea, a book, a soft blanket and a warm candle to keep me company!

    Thursday, November 11, 2010

    My Wish List: Napkins and Table Runners

    I don't know if it's the holiday season fast approaching or the fact that I've been watching Barefoot Contessa at lunch almost every day, but I have a craving to run out and snatch up some table linens: specifically runners and cloth napkins.

    See, Ina often pairs crisp cloth napkins with her meals, whether it's a dinner party or just a supper for two.  I think either way, nice linens elevate the meal and turn it into something special.

    So, I thought I would share a little table linen round-up of some things that are on my wish list this season!

    First up, some beauties from Pottery Barn.  The picture includes a Christmas decal on the napkins that I would leave off.  A simple R monogram would be oh so sweet.  I'm thinking flax or ivory might look nice.

    Second, this metallic table runner and cloth napkins would look perfect with the holiday landscape I'm planning (silvers, whites, golds and a touch of green).  You can't beat the price either.

    Third, these little bursts of sunshine would look great with our yellow place mats that currently reside in our bedroom.  A little rearranging and I'd have a sunny and bright table top.

    Fourth, these cool blue napkins would look perfect with the new fabric I purchased to recover our dining room chairs.  This little project will likely take place after the first of the year, once my silver, white, gold and green decorations have been put away since the current covers have a hint of green in the pattern.  They will also look amazing when I paint our dining room hutch white.

    Finally, these fun berry napkins would work great for Christmas, Valentine's Day or the Fourth of July.  The little zigzag stitching looks so rustic and sweet, it melts my heart a little.  And at the price, who can afford not to snatch them up?

    So there you go, a few items that top my wish list.  What items, linens and otherwise, are on yours?

    Wednesday, November 10, 2010

    New Meal Plan

    As part of number 80 on my 130 Before I'm Thirty list, I am starting a new meal plan, revolving largely around The Flat Belly Diet.  

    My mom, sister and I tried this meal plan two years ago with pretty good success. The premise is simple: eat four meals of 400 calories each throughout the day.  Never go more than four hours without eating and always eat a MUFA with every meal (this counts toward your 400 calorie count).  A MUFA is a monounsaturated fatty acid and these acids can be found in everything from dark chocolate and olives to avocado and nuts.  

    Note: this diet was designed for women, so J has been getting slightly larger portions to limit his intake to approximately 2000 calories.  

    Another note: I am not endorsing or otherwise promoting this diet.  Anyone who is going to start a food regimen should consult a dietitian or doctor first.  

    I am simply sharing this information because it has affected our eating patterns and will affect the type of recipes featured on KT's Refinishing School.   This also means I will try to include serving size and calorie information when available.

    For example, I have a delicious recipe I'd like to share with you: Chickpea Curry with Indian Rice.
    This is an affordable and easy meal (it takes 20 minutes from start to finish!) and one that I think will become a staple in our house.  

    We always have cans of chickpeas on hand because we love to make our own hummus for dipping veggies or thin it with some oil and vinegar as a healthier Caesar-salad type salad dressing.  This  makes whipping up something like this a no-brainer!

    Chickpea Curry with Indian Rice, adapted from Flat Belly Diet Cookbook

    Please forgive the picture.  
    I forgot to take one when we made this and had to take one of the leftovers at lunch today!

    1 tablespoon cornstarch
    1 cup low sodium vegetable broth--I used chicken broth because that is what I had on hand
    2 teaspoons canola or vegetable oil
    1/2 onion, chopped
    2 teaspoons curry powder
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    1/4 teaspoon pepper
    (1) 15 ounce can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
    1/2 cup unsalted cashews, coarsely chopped--Trader Joe's has a great nut selection if you are lucky enough to have one in your area!
    1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
    4 tablespoons fat-free Greek-style yogurt--I used the honey variety
    2 cups long grain white rice--feel free to substitute Basmati, but this is what I had in our pantry
    5 cardamom pods
    2 cups of water

    Kitchen Supplies:
    Can opener
    Large skillet
    Strainer, for the chickpeas
    Rice cooker, or small pan and lid for rice
    Small bowl for cornstarch mixture
    Wooden spoon

    Whisk the cornstarch in a small bowl with enough broth to dissolve, approximately one and a half tablespoons.  Set aside.

    Combine rice and water in rice cooker.  Add five to six cardamom pods for flavor.  Cook according to manufacturer's directions.

    Heat oil over medium heat and when hot, add onions, curry, salt, and pepper.  Cover and stir with a wooden spoon occasionally for five minutes.  Add the remaining broth and cornstarch mixture, whisking constantly until thickened, approximately two minutes.  Add the chickpeas and cashews, reducing the heat to a simmer.  Simmer for five minutes.  Stir in cilantro and top each portion with a dollop (1 tablespoon) of the yogurt.

    Serve over rice, removing cardamom pods before serving.

    Serves 4
    Calorie Count: 389, with 1/4 of chickpea mixture and 3/4 cup of rice


    Tuesday, November 9, 2010

    The Contents of My Purse

    Inspired by Clever Betty, I decided to reveal what's currently in my purse.

    I have to admit that I also had a few grocery lists and receipts that didn't make the cut, but rather went straight into the trash can.

    In no particular order:
    • My iPhone:  I bought it almost a year ago, and except for the occasional dropped call, I love it!  Especially since the radio has gone out in my car, I have been using my iTunes collection and Pandora (on speaker of course!) as a back-up.  This was especially vital when I drove to Kansas City by myself to visit J the weekend before our wedding.
    • My planner: The calendar app on my phone, the To-Do app (also on my phone), and this little pint-sized planner help me stay sane, somewhat organized and get everything done.
    • Keys: I have two car keys, a keyless entry to my car that works intermittently, and memberships to various businesses I sometimes remember to use.
    • Glasses case: No glasses though.  They are on my bedside table so I can read football scores in bed when J and I watch football together.
    • Check book: complete with my new last name on each check!
    • My Panera rewards card form: Apparently Panera's (that's St. Louis Bread Company or Bread Co here in the Lou) is starting a rewards program where you can earn free food.  I have been carrying around the card to sign up for a few weeks now.  Maybe now that I'm blogging about it, I'll actually take the two minutes to sign up.  I hear you get a free soup out of the deal and we are heading there tonight for dinner.  Hmmm....
    • Guitar strings and guitar string tool:  I don't actually know the proper name for the white tool you can see above (by the chapstick and pen) but I know it will help me remove pins and restring my guitar when the time comes.  The strings are left over from when I thought they needed to be replaced.
    • Pen from Blooms, the florist in Omaha who did the flowers for our wedding
    • Chapstick: Can't leave home without it, especially because J borrows it on occasion himself!
    • Coupons from Macy's that I used recently to buy Christmas presents for my mom and mother-in-law
    • Business card case: purchased from Clever Betty at the Strange Folk craft show, it holds all of my cards: credit, debit and otherwise
    • Blue clutch: from New York and Company, it is the same clutch albeit in a different color as the ones I gave my bridesmaids.  I use this as a wallet of sorts--in fact the business card case normally can be found inside it.  It may seem strange to have a clutch inside a purse, but it has proven very helpful for those times when I want to bring a few items (ID, money, phone) and don't want to unpack and repack a completely different purse.
    So there you have it.  The contents of my purse.  I must admit that right now I have a much smaller purse and far less contents now than I have in the past!  You caught me on a good day.

    What's in your purse?  Let's share links or contents below!

    Monday, November 8, 2010


    I have a confession to make.

    I like going to laundry mats.  It's true.

    Ever since our washing machine broke a while back, I've been going to a local laundry mat once every week and a half or so to do laundry.  I thought that I would hate going and that it would encourage me to get a new washing machine.  Nope.  I really enjoy it!

    Most of the time it is pretty quiet in there, except for the machines humming away.  I usually pack a bag full of things to keep me busy: books I'm reading, my journal, letters that need writing, and so forth, and a change of clothes since I usually head there straight after work.  Because really, who wants to do laundry at a laundry mat in a pencil skirt and nylons?  

    An added bonus is that I can do many more loads in the less time it would take me to one load at home when we had a working washer and dryer--our dryer didn't dry clothes very well, causing us to run two cycles for each load to get them completely dry.

    I have four bags of laundry to do tonight and I'm actually looking forward to it.  Is that weird?  Please tell me there are other people out there who like to do laundry and don't mind going to laundry mats?

    Happy Monday everyone!

    Friday, November 5, 2010

    If You Give a Mouse a Cookie...

    This book (and its sequels like this one and this one) was one of my favorites to read to my brother Alec when he was little.  If you haven't read it, you should but I'll summarize briefly: If you give a mouse a cookie, he's going to want a glass of milk.  And when you give him a glass of milk, he'll probably ask for a straw and so on.

    What does this beloved children's book have to do with this blog?  Well, because after my last blog post about our plans to redecorate our kitchen and reorganize our office, I have been having a give-a- mouse-a-cookie kind of experience regarding our apartment.

    Getting new wire shelves will mean moving some of our white chinaware from the hutch to the shelves in the kitchen, as I alluded to in this post.

    If I remove some pieces from the hutch, I should reorganize the remaining pieces in the hutch.

    If I am organizing the pieces in the hutch, I should get down the rest of our wedding china from the closet.

    If I am taking pieces out of the hutch to reorganize, I should just take them all out and bite the bullet and repaint it.  This is something I have been wanting to do for a while.

     If I repaint it, I should wallpaper the back of the hutch, like some blog posts I've been drooling over have (this one whose hutch is above and was featured on YHL and this one)

    If I wallpaper and paint the hutch, I will want to recover our dining room chairs to match.

    And if I do that, I will want to reorganize our bookshelves in our living room.

    And so on.  I might have this project list finished by summer.  But boy will I have fun in the process!

    Thursday, November 4, 2010

    We Keep It Real

    Yesterday I alluded to the fact that J and I were in the market for a wire shelving unit.  What I didn't share with you is where it was going or why.  To explain, I am going to r eveal some less than revealing pictures of our current kitchen and office. We like to keep it real around here, so here we go!

    Warning: these photos are not for the faint of heart.  

    See, a few months ago J's mom generously gave us a brand new Magic Chef stainless steel microwave.  It is a real beauty and much bigger and stylish than the one we currently have.  The only problem: our small microwave cart simply cannot hold the microwave.  Magic Chef is just too big and heavy for the poor little cart.  Here is our current cart in all its glory:

    Enter a larger, more sturdy option: a five shelf wire unit similar to this one at Lowe's. 

    Now you may be wondering what we will fill the other four shelves with once we add the microwave.  Well, let me tell you.

    At the wedding, we were the lucky recipients of many new kitchen electrics, including: Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer, food processor, and blender.  Combine this with J's coffee roaster and grinder, and we have little breathing room.  Case in point: our food processor has taken up residence in our linen closet.  This makes it difficult to get out and often deters us from using it, which is quite unfortunate.  The shelving unit could really help us display (and use) many of these generous gifts!

    We also received a lot of white chinaware, such as a soup tureen, large pasta bowls, plates, salad bowls and so forth, as wedding presents.  So much so that many pieces are hidden in cupboards and closets, with a few pieces in our hutch.  The hutch pieces, especially, take up valuable real estate that could be displaying our wedding china which is also in a closet.  Our two bedroom apartment has five closets, including one that goes under the stairs of the building.  Yes, we are extremely lucky/spoiled!

    In short, I am hoping that the larger, stainless steel shelves allow us to display some of these pieces in a more aesthetically pleasing manner, while allowing us to find permanent homes for our new microwave and kitchen electrics.

    Next the question became what to do with the old microwave cart.  I debated selling it on Craigslist, but then a light bulb went off!  Why not use it as a craft table/gift wrapping station in the office?!  This would help me cross off another of my 130 Before I'm Thirty goals (number 76: create a craft room or table) and help me organize some of the mess in the corner of my side of the office--see horrifying picture below.

    Crafting, wrapping a present or merely finding what I'm looking for under all that mess has become extremely difficult.  I think that the hooks on the side of the cart and the shelves will be great for storing and organizing all of my materials.  The wooden top will provide a great surface for doing anything from writing a letter to my pen pal to wrapping Christmas presents!

    I can't wait to get started.  Here's hoping the after pictures are a lot more soothing and organized!

    Recipe for a Great Evening

    • Get home from a busy day at work
    • Run errands with your husband to Bed, Bath and Beyond and the grocery store
    • Buy shrimp for dinner and make this soup
    • Share some crusty bread and good olive oil for dipping with your husband while you both cook: he the soup, you the shrimp
    • Serve with a cold beer and more crusty bread for dunking
    • Snuggle together under a warm comforter while watching Up in the Air
    • Point out places you've been in Omaha and St. Louis that are featured in the movie
    • Snuggle some more while watching Law and Order: Los Angeles
    • Laugh when you recognize locations (and houses) on Law and Order: Los Angeles because you've been there
    • Spend some time with your cat
    • Fall asleep content
    • Repeat.

    Wednesday, November 3, 2010

    Busy, Busy

    I thought I would share with some to do's that are floating around in my head at the moment:
    • Sand and paint Ravenswood wine flight tray from Value Village
    • Finish spray painting owls (I primed them last night)
    • Buy cat food for Woods
    • Buy shrimp, lemons and crusty bread for dinner tonight--I'm making this and adding shrimp
    • Visit Bed, Bath and Beyond to see if they have shelves like this
    • Begin planning Thanksgiving table setting, now that Halloween is over
    • Take down Halloween decorations
    • Clean house
    • Relax
    • Try not to catch the cold I feel coming on...
    What's on your to do list?

    Mama H's Famous Sloppy Joes

    As mentioned in a previous post, J and I make Sloppy Joes for Halloween every year.  This year, due to our friends' wedding this weekend, we made them on Monday night instead of Sunday night.

    Now Sloppy Joes may sound a little unappealing and for some, may conjure up memories of Billy Madison and the cook telling Billy she made the sloppy joes extra sloppy for him.  But trust me.  They are good.  Just ask J, a former non-believer.

    Here's the story behind the tradition (and the name).

    My mom (Mama H) would cook these for us every year on Halloween.  Usually we were so excited to go trick or treating we would eat one small one before we left (there was no leaving until we had eaten something!) and then it would be there, warm and waiting for us to devour after we got home.  This was usually followed by sorting and trading our candy.  Each of us siblings would have a shop where you could trade your not-so-favorite candies for more desirable one.  My favorites were always Snickers, Sweet tarts, and Reeses peanut butter cups, but I digress.

    So it's not a Halloween picture of yore, but it is a Fall picture circa 1993.
    Here is the recipe:

    Mama H's Famous Sloppy Joes

    1 1/2 pounds of ground beef
    3/4 cup of onion
    1/2 cup of green bell pepper--note: I used fire roasted bell peppers this time because I forgot to get a fresh one at the store.  It worked great!
    1/2 cup water
    1 cup ketchup
    1/4 cup brown sugar
    1/4 cup worchestershire sauce
    1/4 cup red wine vinegar
    Hamburger buns

    Kitchen Supplies:
    Large skillet

    Brown ground beef, onion and bell peppers (if using fresh) in a large skillet over medium heat.  Once meat is cooked through, drain and return to pan.  Add rest of the ingredients: ketchup, water, brown sugar, worchestershire sauce, and red wine vinegar to beef mixture.  If you are using roasted bell peppers, this is when you would also add them to the pot.  Cook until juices reduce and thicken, approximately twenty minutes.  Top the joes on hamburger buns--this sandwich also works as an open-faced sandwich for those of us that are watching our carbs :)

    Serve with pickle spear and cottage cheese, if desired.

    This makes enough for 4 to 6 people, or in our case, 2 dinners and 4 lunches.  Enjoy!

    Tuesday, November 2, 2010

    November Reading List

    Having finished 80% of the books I've checked out over the last few weeks, I decided it was time to visit the library and pick up some more.

    The 20% I did not finish was All Soul's Rising.  It was simply too disturbing, too heartrending to read 300 plus pages about the cruelty of slavery in Haiti, which was worse than the cruelty of slavery here in the United States.  According to the book and other sources, nearly a third of newly enslaved Africans died within three years of forced servitude.  It took me almost a week to read forty pages (which is fairly slow for me) because I could only read a few pages at a time before I had to put down the book out of horror and sadness.  It is one of those books I should read and maybe will some day when I have more time with it, but after having the book checked out for over a month, it is time to let someone else read it.

    I am excited about my new reading list, however, and if you have recently visited my blog like I suggested in this post, you will recognize some of the titles that have made the list.  They are:

    I See You Everywhere by Julia Glass
    This book was a Barnes and Noble recommendation and a Barnes and Noble book club favorite.  It is the story of two sisters who could not lead more different lives.  Louisa is an artist who longs for a stable relationship, a home and marriage.  Clem is a free spirit, who shies away from commitment and is utterly committed to her work.  The novel takes place over a twenty-five year period and throughout that time, they discover that the further they are apart, the closer they are to each other.  According to the book flap, the novel examines life, death, loneliness and sisterhood and asks what you are and are not willing to do for the ones you love.  I chose this book because I have a sister and enjoy reading books about the strong yet often complicated bonds that exist between sisters ala In Her Shoes.

    Sarah by Marek Halter
    This is a novel about Sarah, wife of Abraham, and her life before and after she married Abram (later Abraham) in the land of Ur.  It is the first in a trilogy about women in the Old Testament.  I greatly enjoyed The Red Tent about Old Testament women (Dinah specifically) and while this novel focuses on a slightly more ancient era, I am excited to read it.  Like they say on the playbill of Wicked, so much happened before Dorothy (or in this case Abram) dropped in!

    Every Man Dies Alone by Hans Fallada
    Another Barnes and Noble recommendation.   It is a novel that is based on a true story, translated from German, about two people's resistance in Nazi Germany after their only son is killed by The Third Reich.  It promises to be a thrilling tale and soaring romance.  My edition includes an afterward about the author and real life couple who inspired the novel, which I cannot wait to read.  I chose this novel for two reasons: one, I am very interested in Nazi resistance literature, having read The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story, about one family's resistance in Warsaw, and two, because one of the reviews used the word soaring romance.  This may be a silly reason to choose a book, but that phrase was used to describe These Is My Words, and that novel has never let me down, even after the fifty plus times I've read it (I'm not exaggerating)!

    Mary of Nazareth by Marek Halter
    I found this on the library shelf next to Sarah and thought I would give it a whirl.  I figured if I liked the author, it might be nice to have another one of his works on hand to continue reading.  The fact that it is a novel about Mary, mother of Jesus, and her life before, during and after she met Joseph didn't hurt either!  Are you noticing a theme with this author, because I am!

    So there you have it.  My list of new reading material.  Have any recommendations of books for my next list?  Have you read any of these books?  Let's hear it!